With the election getting closer by the day, charities are watching with interest to see what each of the political party commits to doing in the charity sphere over the next parliament. Formal manifesto launches are still weeks away, but a flavour of the thinking within each party can be found within the voluntary sector essay collections collated and released over 2014 conference season by CAF and ACEVO.
Each essay collection features a number of interesting policy suggestions, as well as insights into the relationship that members of each party believe should exist between government and the charity sector. Whilst the ideas contained within each are not binding, they provide a useful insight into some of the themes that might make it into manifestos in the coming months. (For full content, download the Yellow, Red and Blue books using the links provided.)
First, the Lobbying Act which, after the relative decline of the Big Society, came to dominate the relationship between the Government and the sector. For Labour, there is a clear commitment to scrap it, which has been communicated by both shadow Civil Society Minister Lisa Nandy as well as Labour Leader Ed Miliband. The Conservatives, who initiated the legislation, wish to keep it in place, although new Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson has made positive noises about ensuring that charities retain their independence and ability to campaign. Liberal Democrat contributors acknowledge the impact that the Lobbying Act has had on charities and their relationship with the sector, and comment from contributors suggests that the continuation of the legislation is not something that they wish to see the party die in a ditch for in any coalition negotiations.
Another major focus is the commissioning process and the role of charities in delivering public services. There is a broad understanding that policy makers can learn from the experience and expertise of charities, and an awareness that government can do more to make it possible for charities to compete effectively across larger service providers. With electoral discussion expected to include a focus on the greater personalisation of service provision and the continuation of the localism agenda, it will be interesting to see how the warms words are manifested into practical policies. Talk of a focus on outcomes instead of process will be cautiously welcomed across the sector, with more detail and clarity needed to understand the impact and opportunities this may have for charities.
As might be expected, each party claims strong historic bonds with the sector. LabourList editor Mark Ferguson cites a shared history between the voluntary sector and the Labour movement; prominent Conservative Kwasi Kwarteng traces the roots of modern Conservatism to the development of philanthropy in previous generations, with Jesse Norman defending the principles of the Big Society; and popular Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert argues that his party should have a natural affinity with the sector, with his party leader Nick Clegg seeing the values of charities as similar to those of modern liberalism. With practical policies still weeks from being published, these underpinning principles provide interesting analyses of the role of the sector in the UK, and how each party might use their understanding to facilitate support and interaction with charities.
Each party is at a different stage in their policy making process. Since taking charge of his brief in October, Rob Wilson has begun to slowly make his mark on policy towards the sector, and will be given the opportunity to shape Conservative priorities before their manifesto is published, with Norman calling for the continued implementation of Big Society ideas. For Labour, a recent speech by Nandy expanded on her vision for the sector, focusing on ensuring better pension provision across the sector, increased use of volunteering and social action in schools and at work and greater use of social investment. Whilst the Liberal Democrats have yet to set out their thoughts on the sector’s future, contributors to The Yellow Book want to see volunteering opportunities targeted at people of all ages, and the reform of Gift Aid and Payroll Giving to streamline donation processes.
Based on the content of the essay collections, there is certainly an array of thought about the role for charities in the post-election United Kingdom. From reforms to public services to fully utilise the impact that charities can make, to action to protect the future of the sector, it’s clear that parties acknowledge that charities and voluntary groups need support. In the coming weeks we’ll watch with interest to see if any of the ideas contained within make it into manifestos, and CAF & ACEVO’s Charity Hustings – details to be announced shortly – will provide a sector audience with an opportunity to quiz spokespeople on the plans they have in store for the next Parliament. After all, the voluntary sector ended up dominating Election 2010, and impacts upon people across Britain on a daily basis – it’s vital that it isn’t neglected this time around.